Colic: You Can't Blame Yourself for Your Baby's Cries
Colic takes an enormous toll on parents, transforming what should be the happiest time in our lives into one of misery for many. I’ll never forget reading a heartfelt blog post by a mother named Lee, who described her experience with colic: “I was a wreck. You were the same way when you were a baby, my mom told me. You turned out just fine. Just fine? I physically beat myself up because I couldn’t get my son to stop crying.”
Colic usually occurs between a newborn’s second week and the third or fourth month and is medically defined as crying for more than 3 hours a day, 3 days a week for 3 weeks (the so-called rule of 3’s). Coping with a child who screams and screams for hours on end--without the ability to express what’s wrong--is undeniably distressing.
During almost 30 years as a pediatrician, I’ve worked with countless parents who’ve felt guilt and shame, as if not being able to tame colic makes them a failed parent. When you’re so darn worn out, it’s unfortunately common to give in to these unhelpful doubts. As Lee says in her post, “The only thing that changed was my increasing anxiety that my son would not turn out ‘just fine.’ That I was failing on some fundamental level as a mother.”
Tools for Calming Colic
I have my own theory on colic. I believe that in a “weird” sort of a way, our babies are born 3 months too soon. Think about it: Baby horses are ready to run from the very first day, but our babies are so immature they need our help…even just to burp! Instead of being plunked down on a flat crib in a stone-silent room, my work has shown that infants need to transition more slowly into our big world. Imitating the five soothing, hypnotic rhythms they experienced in the womb (the so-called “5 S’s”) are just what they need in those first 3-4 month.
Research confirms these ideas. The department of Health of Boulder, Colorado tried the 5 S’s with 42 at risk families (teen moms, premature babies, drug users, etc) who all had very fussy babies. Their study showed 41 out of those 42 very fussy babies immediately improved with the “5 S’s” and three special tools : a Happiest Baby DVD to reinforce the teaching, a large, thin swaddling blanket and a white noise CD for naps and all night long.
Years later, I realized technology could be another tool to help parents. From that idea, Happiest Baby invented SNOO Smart Sleeper. With “responsive” tech based on the 5 S’s, it detects a baby’s cries and provides just the right amount of sound and motion to sooth them and stretches sleep longer. SNOO lends a helping hand to families struggling to settle their babies–especially their colicky babies--and get the rest they need.
Parents Need Care Too
But equally important to relieving your baby’s discomfort from colic is relieving YOUR discomfort. One of doctor’s biggest concerns is that this type of persistent crying – and the exhaustion it causes – can trigger very serious health issues in parents, including postpartum depression. Some women slip easily into depression (though there’s evidence that fathers often suffer from postpartum depression, too) and the added stress of colic could definitely push a new mom down that path. The point is, you’re not alone. Definitely reach out to a doctor if you have symptoms of PDD.
Learning to handle the stress that comes with colic is one of your most important goals on this journey. Try not to focus on the actual crying but what you can do to relieve that crying. This helps you go into “solution” mode and steers your mind away from negative thoughts. Take breathers as needed. Ask your partner to “trade off” or seek help from a trusted family member, friend or neighbor. Use that time to do whatever helps you press the “reset” button, whether it’s walking around the block in the fresh air, getting a massage or simply grabbing a quick shower or a nap. Your baby needs you to be the best parent you can be, but to do so you must make time to take care of yourself.
And one important reminder: Never shake your baby! So, if you are getting frustrated or angry because of your baby’s crying, please put your baby down for a little bit. And, make sure to tell everyone helping with the baby the same.)
I know it feels like it will never end, but it will. Take heart in the fact that infants who experience colic do not experience any negative effects in the long run. Get rest, take walks outside, eat well, don’t worry about housework and chores, and remember that you’re doing the very best that you can do!